March 9, 2003
Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite.
Psalm 147:5 (NASB)
The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a religious school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The teacher made a note: "Take only one, God is watching." At the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A boy wrote a note: "Take all you want, God is watching the apples."
The question before the house this morning is simply and quickly answered for most of us here: Is God really only watching the apples, or is He all-knowing? I have every confidence most of us would answer with what the Christian family has affirmed over the past two thousand years…God is omniscient - He knows everything that is going on now, and knew it would happen before it happened, just as He knows that two days from now He will look back on tomorrow and remember that he knew it the day before as if it were the day after.
Now, with that on the table, the next question would naturally be, Preacher, why bother with this, seeing that we are in agreement; what are you trying to prove? The reason is elementary - and vital. All heresy creeps into the church a little at a time. The Lord charged pastors to be faithful to preach all the counsel of God in order that each of us will be equipped to refute heresy. It is just that simple. If you have truth, you can defeat untruth. If you know what is true, the false will ring just that more untrue.
In banks they don’t bother showing counterfeit currency to new teller trainees - they simply make them sit there and count money for the first few days - large stacks of money, the real stuff. After that kind of conditioning, an experienced teller doesn’t even have to look - he can feel a counterfeit the second his fingers make contact.
This morning I am beginning a four-part series to state the truth found in the Word of God about Our God. This morning is about His omniscience, an all-knowing God. Then it is All-Powerful (omnipotence), All-Present (omnipresence), and All-Loving (sufficiency in redemption).
Open Theism - a Heresy
Now, the truth we are going to investigate is in opposition to a heresy that is gaining in acceptance in some circles. That heresy is called "Open Theism". Rather than my explaining this term, I want you to hear what the open theology believers say about themselves from their own website:
In the Christian view God knows all of reality - everything there is to know. But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know - even before he freely does it! But it’s not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they in turn, create their decisions.
In all fairness we need to say that the open theists are not some cult following the orbit of a comet, or counting the hairs on a kiwi fruit. These are folks who have a genuine desire to serve Christ; the question is, What kind of Christ are they serving? A further question could be, If they are people who love Jesus, what is the harm? They love Jesus, we love Jesus - all God’s children love Jesus! The problem with a faulty view of God - no matter how little fault seems to inhabit the view - is that when you are a little off target here, you will miss the target by a mile down the road…you just keep getting farther and farther from the target.
Bruce Ware is the Senior Associate Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six seminaries funded and owned entirely by Southern Baptists. On a website advertising his book, God’s Lesser Glory, he asks the heresy question:
Christians throughout history have been strengthened by their confidence that God knows everything about the future. But consider this: What if it simply is not true? What if God can only rely on His best guess about tomorrow - just as you and I do?
Would it not affect your trust in Him, your confidence in facing the future, your worship, and your motivation to leave everything in His hands? And yet this is the consequence that has to be faced if you trust what a number of leading voices in evangelicalism are proposing under the doctrine of open theism.
In its redefinition of the nature of divine providence, open theism adjusts the entire picture of God’s sovereignty and involvement in our lives. Open theism’s denial of exhaustive divine foreknowledge provides the basis for the major lines of difference between the openness view and all versions of classical theism, including any other version of Arminianism. The implications of denying that God knows what the future holds are enormous. It is incumbent upon us to take this proposal seriously and weigh the evidence.
That is exactly what I would like for us to do this morning is to weigh the evidence concerning open theism as opposed to our belief in the Lord as our All-Knowing God.
A dictionary explanation of the term "omniscience" is:
The state of being all-knowing which theology ascribes to God.
About the word "omniscience"…"Omni" means "all" and "science" in its original sense means "knowing." So omniscience means "all-knowing." In classical theology the doctrine of God’s omniscience means that God knows all things, past, present and future, real and potential, and he knows them all at the same time. He not only knows what was, and what is, he also knows what will be. More than that, he knows everything that could be but is not.
The Evangelical Theological Society recently passed a resolution which refutes open theism and restates the historic Christian perspective:
We believe the Bible clearly teaches that God has complete, accurate, and infallible knowledge of all events past, present, and future, including all future decisions and actions of free moral agents."
Over 100 years ago the great London preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon entitled "Omniscience" from Genesis 16.13, Thou God seest me. In it he made the point which serves as the point of our God being an all-knowing God:
This may be easily proved, even from the nature of God. It were hard to suppose a God who could not see his own creatures; it were difficult in the extreme to imagine a divinity who could not behold the actions of the works of his hands. The word which the Greeks applies to God implied that he was a God who could see. They called him *Theos* (Theos); and they derived that word, if I read rightly, from the root *Theisthai* (Theisthai), to see, because they regarded God as being the all-seeing one, whose eye took in the whole universe at a glance, and whose knowledge extended far beyond that of mortals. God Almighty, from his very essence and nature, must be an Omniscient God. Strike out the thought that he sees me, and you extinguish Deity by a single stroke. There were no God if that God had no eyes, for a blind God were no God at all.
It is an amazing thing to me that theologians and philosophers can be so blind about the foresight of God, when even our secular government still recognizes the all-seeing attribute of God. Notice the back of our one-dollar bill; it has the all-seeing eye of our Creator.
I have to laugh whenever uninformed people say that this nation was not conceived by Christians to be a Christian nation. Everywhere you look in our country’s founding pillars you find faith in our All-Knowing God.
Looking at the Parade
One analogy of the all-knowing/omniscience concept is that of the parade. It was explained to me many years ago that in this life we are in a kind of linear cage. It is like being on a parade float. Our position in this parade we call "life" is labeled March 9, 2003 today. We know all about March 8th and before - we’ve already traveled that part of the parade route. However, tomorrow, March 10th and following is down the road. The big float in front of us prevents us from seeing too far. And so it goes. God, on the other hand is in the reviewing stand, high above. As He looks down he can see the far ends of the parade - both ends, as well as the middle.
Now, all analogies and metaphors break down at some point if you carry them too far. Life is no parade, but the analogy serves to help us think outside the box of our own limitations. If you consider the parade as being time and space, and the reviewing stand as outside time and space, we get a little closer to understanding the concept of omniscience. God is infinite and eternal. Time and space are His creation; He created the parade.
Of necessity God is different than we are. Certainly, we are created in His image, but there is a distinction - we are not God, He is! He has even stated that concept clearly for us:
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55.8-9
God does not think or know with the same limitations we have. He is not within the parade. A Creator is above His creation. Therefore, God is outside of time and space, outside of creation - the creation is His, and He is intimately aware of all of His creation. The Bible is our source of information about just how intimately aware God is with creation. Consider these few (among many) verses:
He understands our thoughts
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
Psalm 139:2 (NASB)
He knows our words in advance
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all. Psalm 139:4 (NASB)
He knows our life from before birth
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
Psalm 139:16 (NASB)
There is nothing He doesn’t know
…God… knows all things.
1 John 3:20b (NASB)
In the short space of one sermon I could not begin to deal adequately with all the evidence in scripture against what I consider heresy…the idea that somehow God is not fully aware - or even chooses to not be aware of the future.
This is a complicated issue, but among the hidden "hooks" involved in this is the danger of undermining faith in God’s strength to keep us. I was writing this sermon Thursday night and took a few moments to watch the news conference President Bush held. One of the reporters asked the president how much his faith influenced his decision-making. The president’s remarks included a statement of how his faith is sustaining him in every way - especially the fact that prayer, and the prayers of people everywhere are what is carrying him!
Children of God, how in the world could we entrust our prayers to a God who doesn’t know what’s coming? Would you, as Bruce Ware suggested, feel confident in a God who can only guess about what’s going to happen tomorrow? I think not. The essence of faith is entrusting. When I have faith in the brakes on my Festiva to stop me before smashing into the car ahead, I am entrusting my life to the care of Ford’s "better idea". As much as I revere that wonderful little car, and the history of the manufacturer, they are fallible - there have been goofs in their history. When it comes to eternity I do not want to entrust my soul to anything as uncertain as a good guess -
I want the assurance of the God of Heaven who knows the end from the beginning.
I want the Alpha and Omega.
I want the Rock of Ages who knows the plans He has for me.
I want Jesus!
Perhaps the thing that drives this open theism trend is that some folks just cannot imagine the concept of a God who really can see and know all.
12There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Proverbs 14:12 (KJV)
Because men cannot see, that doesn’t stop God from being Who He really is - all-knowing. My dad sent me a story about hidden things which illustrates:
Little Nancy was in the garden filling in a hole when her neighbor peered over the fence. Interested in what the cheeky-faced youngster was up to, he politely asked, "What are you doing there, Nancy?" "My goldfish died," replied Nancy tearfully without looking up, "and I’ve just buried him." The neighbor was very concerned. "That’s an awfully big hole for a goldfish, isn’t it?" Nancy patted down the last heap of dirt then replied, "That’s because he’s inside your cat."
The Good News/Bad News Thing
In the coming weeks we will deal with other aspects of God’s nature - His power, His presence and His love. He has revealed these in His kindness through His Word, and by the Living Word, Jesus. For this day I want to leave you with two thoughts - the good news and the bad about omniscience:
The good news is that because God knows everything that has happened, and everything that is coming, a child of God can have confidence in his Lord to set everything straight.
If you have been beaten-down by the world, He knows;
If you are worried because things look bleak, He knows;
If you are praying and the heavens seem silent, He understands;
If you don’t know where the strength will come from, He sees;
He is the loving God to whom you entrusted your soul for all eternity and
His love will not allow you to be tempted above that which you are able to bear;
His strength will not allow you to sink;
His providence will supply;
His grace will be sufficient;
His faithfulness will see you through!
John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace wrote: "If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer-His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable."
It is said that Jewish men wear the traditional yarmulke on their heads because it represents the hand of God pressing down on them. It reminds the wearer that he always lives in the presence of God. That’s the good news, Christian believer, follower of Jesus Christ - You are in His presence, always on holy ground.
The bad news is for those who have not yet trusted their lives to God in Jesus Christ. That news is the same - God sees. He knows everything about you. You may not see Him, but He is there, and He knows…
In the sermons of Spurgeon the preacher once shared a story of a city where there was widespread dishonesty in business dealings. The Lord got through to one man, and he was converted. The business man came under conviction to reach his peers. Knowing what it takes to break through the encrusted veneer of hardened businessmen, the man sent twenty telegrams to the owners of the city’s largest firms. The messages simply read, "All is known." Within the hour all twenty of the men left town.
The story has a humorous side, but only because there is a truth contained that is uncomfortable for us human children - all really is known! God knows; and what’s worse is that He plans to tell all!
17"For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. 18"So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him." Luke 8.17-18
The ultimate plan of God is to reveal all and judge all. That is good news for the child of God who has been forgiven, and sins washed away with God’s own forgiveness, purchased by the blood spilled on Calvary’s cross. It is bad news for any who reject Jesus.
Good news - Bad news. But there is Better News; Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so we don’t have to worry over that final day. And God knew that in advance too!
17And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 18knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1.17-21
And so, the invitation…the choice, which God has left to each one of us, is to make this fact of God’s all-knowing nature good news or bad news. If you accept Jesus Christ as Savior, acknowledging your own sin, and His gift of forgiveness because of the cross, it is good news. If you reject that gift, it is the worst news you can’t even imagine; and it is for all eternity. What is your decision…bad news…or the good news from an all-knowing God who loves you?